Written by Anthony Tyme on September 22, 2018
The perpetual calendar is the pinnacle of calendar functions, mechanically programmed to not only display the date and month without requiring manual adjustments, but also leap year indications correctly until the year 2100 (when the leap year wll be disregarded). It might surprise you to know that the history of this complication dates all the way back to 1762, when an English horologist named Thomas Mudge invented the world’s very first perpetual calendar in pocket watch form.
It took Patek Philippe more than 100 years to repeat the feat, and they filed a patent for their perpetual calendar mechanism only in 1889. In 1925, the brand manufactured the world’s first perpetual calendar wristwatch, a piece that was commissioned by an American collector of Patek Philippe timepieces. Breguet followed with their own effort in 1929, and Jaeger-LeCoultre in 1937.
What is curious, however, is the realization that the world’s first date-only wristwatch succeeded the first perpetual calendar wristwatches. Simply put, wristwatches of that era were either simple three-handers or complex calendars; no watchmakers thought that there would be demand for a date-only watch. In this respect, Rolex is the Apple Inc. of the watchmaking world. The company has a fantastic knack for doing things differently from its competition and doing so more simply and more intuitively. Quite often, we are left scratching our heads and asking ourselves the following: “why did no one think to do that before?”
Rolex, the stalwart Swiss watch company, was actually founded in the United Kingdom in 2015 by the enterprising Hans Wilsdorf at the age of 24, before the firm relocated to Switzerland in 1920. The first Datejust was released in 1945 to commemorate the brand’s 40th anniversary and was unveiled at a jubilee celebration (hence the name of the new five-link bracelet that accompanied the watch). Of course, the Datejust was housed in an Oyster case (at the time of its release in 1926, the Oyster was the world’s first fully-integrated waterproof case), which had by that time become one of Rolex’s hallmark achievements. The watch was also a “Perpetual” timepiece. In other words, it was equipped with an automatic movement. The design language of the Datejust has remained true to its origins, and though the model has continued to evolve technologically, it retains its original pedigree as a dressy but capable sports watch and remains one of the cornerstones of the brand.
Wonderful two-tone Rolex Datejusts for those of us who want to unleash our inner Patrick Bateman
The first Datejust Ref. 4467 was released only in 18k yellow gold and did not come with the classic cyclops magnifier, as this was introduced only in 1954. After being offered only in yellow gold, the line grew to include stainless steel and two-tone variants of the watch. In 1974, the Datejust was outfitted with a sapphire crystal as opposed to the plexiglass used previously.
Rolex cal. 1570
The cal. 1570, launched in 1965, marked the third generation of the 1500 series of movements and was equipped with a 19800 vibrations-per-hour beat rate and bi-directional winding. 1972 saw the 1570 being equipped with hacking feature. The movement was well-regarded for its fantastic engineering and simplicity, and continued to power the Ref. 5512 Submariner and even the Explorer Ref. 1016 until the end of its run in the late eighties. Thanks to intermediate gears and a spring mechanism, the date was able to make the jump instantaneously at midnight. Even to this day, the instantaneous date jump at midnight feels refined and it is hard to believe that the technology underpinning the system is more than 60 years old!
Beautiful stepped, “linen” dial on a 1974 Datejust Ref. 1601 with 18k white gold fluted bezel
The three pictures above highlight many of the reasons why the Datejust makes for a perfect all-rounder, daily watch. The Datejust has a commanding presence on the wrist that belies its 36mm size. Though the watch is neither too small nor too flashy, its long lugs and shimmering 18k fluted white gold bezel offer just enough “pop” that the watch can be worn easily with formal attire. At the same time, the watch’s Oyster case construction and Twinlock crown guarantee hermeticity up to 100m, making it a surprisingly robust timepiece.
Rolex Oysterdate Red. 6694
The Rolex Date family grew to include unique models incluing the Oysterdate and the Turnograph, a Datejust variant that was fitted with a rotating bezel. Though the Turnograph was not the first rotating-bezel Rolex (that honor goes to the incredibly rare 1937 Zerographe flyback monopusher chronograph) it was the first serially-manufactured Rolex with a rotating bezel and can be regarded as a direct predecessor of the Submariner and the GMT Master. The four pictures aove showcase the Ref. 6694 Rolex Oysterdate, a 34mm waterproof watch with a riveted steel bracelet and the manual wind, non-chronometer grade (which made it an outlier in the Rolex catalogue) caliber 1225. Note the commemorative dials that indicate that these watches were most probably awarded to servicemen of the the UAE armed forces.
The Datejust often gets overlooked for the more “iconic” models including the Submariner and the GMT Master. However, if it had not been for the groundbreaking innovations of the date mechanism, these models probably would not have become quite the icons they are today. The Datejust remains the canvas on which Rolex experimented and piloted many of its innovations: instantaneously changing date, rotating bezels, fluted bezel.
The legacy of the Datejust remains strong and, most importantly, continues to grow, with the 2012 Sky-Dweller being the latest example of an arc of development that started with a simple “jubilee” watch released in 1945.
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